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Correct Essay Title Capitalization

After spending time and energy coming up with the perfect title for your article or blog post, do you really want to take even more time debating how to format it correctly? When writing for an internet audience, using a standardized title case can help you avoid criticism and confusion. AP style title case has a few easy rules that will help showcase your title. (Note: These rules are the exact same for APA style, the only difference being that AP style does not recommend the use of title case for newspaper headlines, but rather sentence case.) To master AP title case, learn the rules below. If you want a simple cheat sheet to have at your side, feel free to download the “Rules of AP Title Case” infographic we’ve created at the bottom of the page.

Capitalize the Principal Words

The principal words of a title include the first and last words of that title, which you should always capitalize. You should also capitalize all verbs (including infinitives), nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs and some conjunctions. Finally, capitalize every word that is more than three letters long.

Examples:

Creating the Perfect Centerpiece for Your Party 
Increase Curb Appeal With New Shutters 
– How To Look For a Paid Internship 

In the last example, note that the entire verb phrase “to look for” is capitalized.

What Not To Capitalize

Don’t capitalize articles, prepositions or conjunctions that have fewer than four letters. That leaves a pretty short list of words that often aren’t capitalized*:

a

for

so

an

in

the

and

nor

to

at

of

up

but

on

yet

by

or

*Remember to focus on how a word functions in the title to determine if it should be capitalized. For example, “yet” should be capitalized while acting as an adverb, but lowercase while acting as a conjunction. 

Pay Special Attention to Prepositions

When you write titles that contain prepositions, your word processor will likely tell you that you should leave words like “with,” “about,” and “around” lowercase. Defiantly look past the squiggly line indicating a potential error, and remember that in AP title case, prepositions with four or more letters should be capitalized.

Examples:

The Dangers of Hiking Without Proper Shoes 
Working Your Way Around Office Politics

Questions about the Importance of Renters Insurance  
What’s Lurking beneath Your Home?  

The Verb “Is”

Many writers make the error of leaving “to be” verbs lowercase. Even though “is,” “are,” “was,” and “be,” are all short words, they should still be capitalized in a title because they are verbs.

Examples:

Why Sunless Tanning Is a Hot Trend 
Satin Sheets Are a Luxury You Can Afford 

How to be More Aware of Bank Fraud  
– Simple Reasons Why I am Never Bored  

Conclusion

The title of your article or blog post is the first thing that your readers will see. By using an intriguing title and formatting it correctly, you can draw your readers in and build their trust. Throughout your article, make sure that the headings within the body of your work follow the same formatting guidelines as your title. When you do this, you are well on your way to creating an article that is both fun to read and visually appealing.

If you have any comments on the subject (or funny examples), leave them below! Click here if you’d like to freshen up on some more AP Style rules.

Rules of AP Title Case Cheat Sheet:

You are likely here because you need a headline checker to make sure your title and headlines are properly written. That's exactly what Headline Capitalization does. It's a free tool to make sure what you capitalize online for publications like blogs and news articles, or for academic papers, is correct. This headline checker should help you to correctly format all your titles in the future. It's important to accurately capitalize titles and headlines for articles and papers. Headline Capitalization is a free headline checker that correctly capitalizes titles for all your writing.

Article Title and Headline Capitalization Rules

When it comes to creating headlines and titles for articles, it can get confusing what words to capitalize and what words should remain lower case. There are several styles of title and headline capitalization which different publications may use. For the most part, there are general rules that all publications follow with a few minor deviations between them. For those who write, it's important to understand these rules about which words to capitalize when creating headlines and titles.

Major Headline Capitalization Styles

There are four major title capitalization styles. These are:
  • AP Style
  • APA Style
  • Chicago Style
  • MLA Style
There is no single authoritative style guide when it comes to capitalizing headlines and titles, although some are used for certain types of writing. For example, the Associated Press Stylebook (AP Style) is often used by news organizations, the Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago Style) is more comprehensive for in-depth writing, and the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (MLA style) is used for academic papers. While this is where the different styles are usually used, it's not mandatory to use a particular style for a particular type of writing. If you are unsure of which style to use, the best method is to seek out which style the course, editor, or teacher prefers so that you know, and then use that specific style. If you're in a certain field, you should learn the style that's most prominent in your field. For example, the AP Style for those in journalism, and the MLA style if you're in academics. In all cases, it's best to ask for each project to make sure since each style has its own rules.

General Headline Style Rule: Title Case

How to write headlines and titles is usually referred to as "headline style" or "title case." As mentioned, all styles are not the same, but there are a few general rules they all follow. These are:
  • Capitalize the first word in the title
  • Capitalize the last word in the title
  • Capitalize the important words in the title
The first two points are clear cut and easy to follow. The next question is, what are considered "important" words in a headline? In most cases, they include the following words:
  • Adjectives (beautiful, large, hopeful)
  • Adverbs (forcefully, silently, hurriedly)
  • Nouns (computer, table, manuscript)
  • Pronouns (they, she, he)
  • Subordinating conjunctions (as, so, that)
  • Verbs (write, type, create)

Words in Headlines That Aren't Capitalized

The above words are the ones generally capitalized, so what words are usually written in lowercase when creating headlines and titles? These tend to be shorter words (under five letters long). The following types of words are generally not capitalized:
  • Articles (a, an, the)
  • Coordinating Conjunctions (and, but, for)
  • Short (less than 5 letters) Prepositions (at, by, from)

Alternative Headline Capitalization: Sentence Case

One style of headline and title capitalization which doesn't follow the rules is Sentence Case style. This is where editors decide to write titles as if they were a typical sentence. In this case, the first word of the headline would be capitalized while the rest of the title would be in lower case, except for proper nouns. Below are a few examples of Sentence Case style headlines:
  • How to properly write article titles
  • A review of a hike at Grand Canyon national park
  • The best value meal when eating at Chipotle

Referencing Titles of Publications

No matter what style of headline capitalization you decide to use in your writing, if you ever reference the title of a book, article, or journal, you should write the title of it as it has been written, even if it happens to be a different style than you're using for your writing. You should not change them to fit your style, and they should always be written as they appear in the publication.